I don’t know if you ever watch Barefoot Contessa or read any of Ina’s cookbooks, but she is always calling for a “good” something or other. Good chocolate, good olive oil, good peanut butter, even. And well, I tend to agree with her. A dish is only as good as its ingredients, right? And when you are making something with simple and minimal ingredients (as I tend to do), it’s important that you use quality ingredients.
When it comes to olive oils for cooking, there are several I can use and have no qualms about. But for a dressing, or a drizzle, or something like chimichurri, it’s important to use a “good” olive oil, so that’s what I’m advocating for this dressing. I used an organic extra virgin olive oil by Gaea, which was great. I try to get Greek olive oils whenever I can find them, because I often prefer them. If I don’t buy Greek olive oils (or have people bring them to me from Greece), I like Lucini, which is pretty readily found (at least for me), and I’d also recommend this Gaea oil, too.
And, I also would like to specify that you should use a “good” feta too (thanks for the reminder, Peter). This means, not the brick you find in the cheese section of the grocery store. You will probably have some kind of ethnic market around you that sells a better feta (for less money). The one by me sells Bulgarian feta for $3.49/lb. and imported Greek feta for $6/lb. Do you know how much a pound of that not-so-good feta in the cheese case at the grocery store runs here? $12/lb.! Nonsense. If you don’t have an ethnic grocery near by but have a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods., both stores carry a Greek feta that’s creamier than the grocery kind, as well as a version actually sold in brine. They’re not quite as creamy and salty as delicious as the kind the old Greek dude at the ethnic deli will sell you, but they’re pretty good.
Greek salads in the States are quite a bit different than they are in Greece. Most salads in Greece are “horiatiki” or village salads, and they don’t contain what seems to be the main ingredient in an American-Greek salad – iceberg lettuce. They are generally comprised of tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, red onion, kalamata olives, and sometimes green pepper or pepperoncini. Seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and dried oregano, they are usually only drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil and/or red wine vinegar.
Here in the States, most Greek salads have (a ton of) iceberg lettuce and are adorned with beets, pepperoncini, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and sometimes chickpeas. (And, according to a friend in FL, ham. WTF?) They’re dressed with a pretty standard dressing, often creamier than a typical vinaigrette.
Now, my dad makes the best Greek dressing on the planet. If you want to truly understand how good it is, this will be the test: I absolutely love it, and it has mayonnaise in it. That’s right, my most despised condiment, something I find to be incredibly vile. But what it does is give the vinaigrette a little body and creaminess without making it over-the-top creamy.
Since I pretty much refuse to buy a jar of mayonnaise, I decided what would make this vinaigrette a little creamier would be the addition of some Greek yogurt. As a bonus, it’s healthier, too. This is not my dad’s recipe (though I think the next time I’m home, I will ask him to scale it down to a non-restaurant serving), but contains many of the same elements. I’ve said before that I prefer a more acidy dressing, so I use more vinegar than oil, which is not the standard. If you want something more traditional vinaigrette, flip flop the amounts of vinegar and oil.
Oh, and I know I can’t get anything past you, dear reader, so yes, this is two different salads (with the same dressing). What can I say? I like salad in the summer because heat makes me cranky so standing over a hot appliance for a long period of time makes me even crankier. Our salads had romaine, tomato, cucumber, feta, kalamata olives, & pickled beats. One day we also had green pepper. The other day, we had sunflower seeds. And of course, I served the salads with some warm Greek-style pitas (which are really more like a flatbread, as they don’t have a pocket.
Makes about 2/3 cup
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2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
1/3 cup red wine vinegar*
2 spoonfuls of Greek yogurt
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil*
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Whisk together the garlic, vinegar, yogurt and oregano until incorporated. Stream in the olive oil as you continue to whisk, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. It’s best to let this sit for a little bit for the flavors to mingle before dressing your salad. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days.
*If you want a more traditional vinaigrette, use 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil. I prefer a bit more acid in mine.